We’re Ignoring Michigan’s Economic Powerhouse
It’s easy to look at Michigan’s economic woes and start thrashing around for interesting, sexy fixes. Many fixes, in fact, are valid and important - areas that need to be shored up: engaging creative college graduates to stay here; building alternative industries in the life sciences, alternative energy and other fields; encouraging entrepreneurship through venture capital and other funds.
That’s all good and important. But we are blind – even willfully ignorant in some cases – about the untapped economic juggernaut we have in Michigan already. It’s a population that represents a core of capital and creativity that, if left underserved, will result in the loss of the biggest potential for short and long-term economic growth this state has seen in 30 years.
It’s all about aging Boomers. The 60+ crowd. They represent the only population in the Detroit region that will be growing for the next 25 years. Every other population segment will shrink. It’s true. Ask SEMCOG – they did the study.
I know what you’re thinking. People over 60 have one foot out the door. They’re wrapping things up. They’re poor. They don’t spend money. They’re a drain on the state & local economy. They hate technology. And they’ve had it with work.
Not one of those things is true. Just look at the facts:
They have one foot out the door? Seniors vote more frequently than anyone else. They’re more engaged and aware of public policy issues and challenges. Thus, they’re more influential than any other demographic.
They’re poor? Poverty in the US is 12.7% of the population. However, estimates for senior poverty in Michigan are as low as 8%, including Social Security income.
They don’t spend money? People 50+ own 77% of all the assets in the United States. They purchase 43% of all cars. They eat out an average of 3 times a week. They account for 90% of all leisure travel. And they have more disposable income than any other group.
They’re a drain on the state & local economy? Virtually all have health care coverage. Very few have children of school age, so they don't dilute local and state resources dedicated for education. They rarely go to prison – one of the biggest tax burdens for any state. And they cause less property damage than other younger people.
They hate technology? According to a recent study, 70% of Americans 65+ like the idea of using personal computers to be connected to the world around them.
They’ve had it with work? As lifespan grows for men and women, surveys show that aging Boomers have no intention of hanging it up, intellectually or physically. They want to create. They want to be change agents. They want to be involved philanthropically. They expect to be working, creating and contributing into their 80’s. Consultant and author Marc Freedman recently chaired a conference on the so-called “Encore Economy”. He says tens of millions of seniors want Encore Careers.
Forgotten Economic Powerhouse
Yet despite this commanding data, the aging population is largely forgotten by leadership, economic planners and capitalists in the state of Michigan. I have not seen a single strategic planning initiative statewide or regionally surrounding this cash-rich, ready-made population in Michigan.
According to a recent out-immigration study, Michigan loses more seniors each year in all but 4 states. We’re losing $1.3 billion dollars per year from the state economy due to seniors leaving. We need to do much more to keep them here.
But here’s the good news: there is a huge economic development opportunity to serve the aging Boomer population in Michigan. But it’s largely untapped. The organization that I serve, for example – Presbyterian Villages of Michigan (PVM) - has nearly $200 million dollars in bricks and mortar construction in the planning pipeline over the next 5 years to serve this demanding and important population.
We create residential villages with an emphasis on building community relationships among older residents. Some Villages include multiple buildings and other amenities on a large campus (our largest being 90 acres). Others are multistory on smaller sites - but they operate like the villages, nonetheless.
My goal is to make sure that leadership, developers, retail establishments, health care systems, and leisure service organizations understand the opportunity that is staring them in the face.
Michigan’s success depends on it.